Since the crash, my fiction writing has been hit or miss. Drawing, however, has become a daily habit.
I’ve never been exceptionally gifted – or, indeed, gifted at all – in drawing. I’ve also never been particularly skilled at it, because I have so rarely practiced. And during the period of my life in which I got interested enough to practice daily, I also encountered an art teacher who announced loudly, while “fixing” one of my projects to suit herself, “You really can’t draw!”
I regret the literal decades in which I did not practice drawing, thanks to those four words. (Though I did write that teacher a nice poem a few years later, which appeared in the Muskegon River Review.)
Since the crash, words have been hard. Hard enough that even with my lack of practice or skill, drawing has appealed to me as a more accessible and expressive language for my situation.
It’s still not good. In fact, I often make fun of my nightly drawings in the same journal in which I am drawing them. A drawing of my soap and washcloth, one day after a shower (a Herculean feat when one has only one weight-bearing limb), is captioned “Am I improving yet?”
This morning, I decided to practice shading – the particular skill my long-ago art teacher was criticizing when she announced I “really can’t draw.” It is, of course, still bad some 25 years later.
Those intervening 25 years and a successful writing career, however, have taught me things about the nature of bad art.
Bad art is inevitable, at least at the beginning.
Bad art is necessary; it teaches us how to make good art.
Bad art is fun. It’s a free space. There’s no standard the art has to live up to; the art is a success merely because it exists, no matter how bad it is.
This morning, I realized: Bad art is also a gift to my future self.
I’m drawing now because it’s helping me express ideas and feelings that, as Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote, “the words don’t reach.” But I’m also drawing for my future self, the one who has better drawing skills than I do today because I did the work to draw today.
I’m looking forward to looking back at these drawings in a year, or five years, or 25 years. I want to see how far I’ve come. I want to see how far regular practice will take me.
Maybe the answer is “not far.” Maybe in five years, the response to my drawings will still be “you really can’t draw!” I don’t care.
My art teacher made several mistakes in telling thirteen year old me that I could not draw. Of them, the biggest mistake was assuming that I drew for any audience other than myself. She assumed, wrongly, that her opinion mattered.
At 13, I also assumed, wrongly, that her opinion mattered. I went on assuming that for a long time. Fortunately, the intervening 25 years have also taught me to discern whose opinions matter – especially when it comes to something so personal and so freeing as making bad art.
Here’s the first piece of fiction I’ve managed to finish since the motorcycle crash. I hope it amuses y’all to read it as much as it did me to write it.
(Apologies for formatting or other concerns; I’m still working on my phone with one finger.)
You Are A Cat: A Cat Your Own Catventure Tale
You are a cat. The time is 5:15 a.m., which you know not from the clock but from the sense of frantic energy filling your bones – as well as by the gnawing sensation starting in your gut.
To zoom, go to A; to demand food, go to B.
A. Your bones win. The frantic energy washes over you, fluffing your tail, flattening your ears to your head, and crowding your irises to mere slivers at the corners of your vast pupils. You crouch on the hallway rug and wiggle your plush rear in anticipation of takeoff. The living room flies by beneath your feet, racing and whirling, till a thundering crash sends you hurtling beneath the couch.
To investigate, go to C; to hide, go to D.
B. Your stomach wins. Standing full-length, you rattle the bedroom door handle until the door gives way, allowing you to fall gracefully into the bedroom. The humans are, as usual, buried beneath the bedcovers. You choose the more easily suckered of the two and begin walking back and forth on them…but, oddly, nothing happens.
To stand on their face, go to E; to yowl, go to F.
C. Never let it be said you are a fraidy cat. Before the echoes of the crash die away, you’re on the rug, nose exploring spilled potting soil mixed with shards of terracotta and the occasional shred of greenery. A dazed beetle trundles slowly away from the scene.
To eat the greenery, go to G; to eat the beetle, go to H.
D. What monster dares attack you in your own domain? At the zooming hour of all times? You crouch beneath the shelter of the couch as footsteps clatter towards you from two directions. Your shock gives way to amusement as the dog arrives first on the scene, burying its nose in the shattered plant pot just as one of the humans rounds the corner.
To remain hidden, go to I; to attempt escape, go to J.
E. Undaunted, you walk back up the human’s huddled form and place a paw delicately on their face, just below the eye, testing your foothold. You rest your weight here and lift a second paw to step on their ear when suddenly you find yourself hurtling through the very doorway by which you entered. You land with an undignified thump as the bedroom door clicks shut behind you. This time, despite your attempts, you can’t open it.
To scold the humans, go to F; to nap off your frustration, go to K.
F. Being ignored does not suit you at all. Fortunately, you were not built to be ignored. You take a deep breath, scolding the humans in the same way they scold the dog, only more elegantly: “Rrr-aa–AAAAA–AAAWWW!” You’ve trained them well; it takes only three repetitions, each increasing in volume, before a human stirs, grumbles, and rises from the bed.
To wind around their ankles, go to L; to get a head start to the food dish, go to M.
G. You edge closer to the greenery, its sharp, fresh scent filling your attention. Normally the humans never let you this close to it; normally you have to watch it from the back of the couch, imagining the tastes and textures that now flood your tongue. You swallow, then jump as a sharp human voice scolds you from above.
To go under the couch and sleep off your forbidden snack, go to K; to rub against the human’s ankles, go to L.
H. You focus on the beetle as it wobbles through the dirt. There’s usually plenty of protein in your food dish, but a snack that’s also a toy is too good to resist. You bat at the beetle, rolling it onto its back, then chomp it down. Delicious, but somehow…unsatisfying. You lick your chops. Yes, something isn’t quite right.
To eat the greenery, go to G; to ignore the queasy feeling in your stomach, go to N.
I. You stay under the couch, tingling with smugness as the human’s face scrunches unhappily. A moment later, the human launches into the scolding noise, face aimed at the dog. The dog cowers.
To take a nap in your hiding spot, go to K; to investigate your food bowl, go to M.
J. The human’s face scrunches, their mouth opening to scold the dog, already cowering as if it really did destroy the plant. Now seems like the right time to make your escape. The human is not feeling indulgent, however; as soon as you emerge from beneath the couch, their scolding turns to you.
To win forgiveness by acting cute, go to O; to demand food, go to Q.
K. Nothing beats a nap under the couch. It’s quiet, safe from both humans and dogs, and lined with months’ worth of your own precious shredded fur. You drift into a doze, waking some time later with another pressing need on your mind.
To visit your food dish, go to M; to wash your coat, go to P; to use the litterbox, go to X.
L. Fortunately, no matter how bad a mood the humans are in, they cannot resist your feline wiles. You sidle over to the human and rub your back against their legs, purring for good measure. The human reaches down to pet you.
To be even cuter, go to O; to remind the human of their duties, go to Q.
M. You head for the kitchen, home of the shrine at which the humans make their offerings to your feline divinity: Your food dish. Unfortunately, the offerings do not please you just now. A bare spot the size of your paw lies at the bottom of the dish, surrounded by kibble that’s been here since the humans last went to bed. Unacceptable!
To wait for the human, go to U; to scold the human, go to V.
N. Your stomach doesn’t feel so good. You open your mouth to let out a yowl of distress, but the contents of your stomach leap up your throat instead, throttling your full-volume cry down an undignified “urrk!” A bit of retching, and a soggy puddle lies at your feet.
To refill at your food bowl, go to U; to announce your accomplishment, go to W; to sleep off your discomfort, go to Z.
O. If you had to name your favorite thing about humans, you’d say it’s how they are total suckers. You flop onto your side, belly in the air, as your human continues to pet you.
To headbonk your human, go to S; to shred their hand, go to T.
P. No matter what ordeal you’ve faced, bathing always makes you feel better. You set to licking your coat with long swipes of your pink tongue. You scrub your face, spit dirt from between your toes, and give yourself a pedicure. You save your anus for cleaning in full view of the humans’ guests, as a treat.
To rehydrate, go to R; to enjoy a post-bath nap, go to Z.
Q. It’s cute how the humans think they’re in control – but it’s also annoying. Time to set this one straight. “Yoww–oww–OWW!” you yell, stopping the human in their tracks. There. Now you can get to business.
To lead the human to your food, go to M; to teach the human a lesson, go to T.
R. Your food bowl may be in a sorry state, but your water bowl is…also in a sorry state, with water simply sitting in it. On the floor. As if you deserved such shabby service. After an exploratory sniff, you leap onto the counter and whack the faucet handle with your paw, sending a trickle of fresh water splashing into the sink. That’s better!
To get your drink and use the commode, go to X; to play in the water, go to Y.
S. Now the human’s full attention is yours, as it should be. You mash your head against the human, purring zealously as you smear your scent across your personal servant. The human coos and redoubled their petting efforts.
To give in to your excitement, go to T; to receive more snuggles, go to Y.
T. Your eyes glaze over as the human strokes your fluffy tummy. Deep in your hindbrain, a siren blares: ATTACK! and you obey, sinking claws and teeth into the human’s hand. You hear a yelp, and suddenly you’re flying. Skidding to a stop, you glare at the human. Why do they take everything so personally?
To restore your dignity, go to P; to demand reparations, go to W.
U. Patience in matters of food pays off: shortly after your arrival at the food bowl, fresh kibble fills the worryingly large paw-sized hole at the bottom of your dish. You set to work, chomping down mouthfuls.
To end your meal, go to N; to wash up, go to P; to visit the commode, go to X.
V. Seconds tick by as you sit at your worryingly empty food bowl. The paw-sized bare space at the bottom mocks you as the human fusses with things on the counter, ignoring your pointed glare. This will not do at all.
To use your feline wiles, go to L; to take a principled stand, go to W.
W. “Yowwww!” you announce from the floor. “YowwwOWW.” You lean into the performance; the more melodramatic the sounds, the more placating the human. “Yaaroowww. MEOWROUGHARRORRR.” You are a feline Shakespeare.
To receive an apology go to U; to receive an “apology,” go to Y; to reward yourself, go to Z.
X. What goes in must come out! Nature calls you to your litter pan. Fortunately, it’s clean, the humans being almost but not quite as picky about it as you are. To encourage more dutiful cleaning efforts, you kick a few extra pawfuls of litter around the laundry room as you exit.
To wash up, go to P; to resume your feline duties, go to Y.
Y. Suddenly, you feel a swooping sensation in your stomach as all four paws leave the floor, and you’re tumbled belly-up into the human’s arms. The human covers your face and toes in kisses, ignoring your pointed eyeroll. The human puts you down a few moments later, but this indignity must not stand.
To protest nonviolently, go to N; to protest violently, go to T; to bide your time, go to Z.
Z. You saunter into the living room, looking for a suitable nap spot. At the picture window sits a super deluxe plush cat tree, as tall as the humans, with five perches, a hammock, three built in toys and two scratching posts. You walk right past and curl up in the box the cat tree came in. Perfect!
When you wake, it is 5:15 a.m., which you know not from the clock but from the sense of frantic energy filling your bones – as well as by the gnawing sensation starting in your gut.
Despite my best efforts to maintain a blogging schedule this year, I have been derailed – but, alas, for a very understandable reason.
On Monday, March 22, my spouse and I were riding our motorcycle (I was passenger) when we collided what I am told was an SUV that turned left directly in front of us.
I don’t remember the collision. My first memory is of paramedics cutting my clothes off in the middle of a road. Later that night I’d learn about my four broken ribs, three pelvis fractures, broken femur, broken ankle, broken thumb, and concussion.
The tl;dr version is that I lived. My husband, who was driving the motorcycle, did not.
I spent a week in trauma ICU, then was moved to an inpatient rehabilitation center, which is where I am now.
My physical prognosis is good. So far, the only thing I am likely to be unable to do again is figure skating, since the way in which I broke my pelvis at the right hip socket precludes landing jumps. I’m sad about that, but also hopeful about all the things I will be able to do again in time.
And I need that hope, because wow, this is hard.
Physically, this is the hardest thing I have ever done – and I’ve been a Girl Scout camp counselor, a figure skater, a colorguard performer and coach, and done farm chores including splitting wood and baling hay.
I had no idea how many steps it takes to use a toilet when one has only one weight-bearing limb. Or to brush one’s hair. Or to roll sideways.
And they physical stuff is easy compared to the grief.
I’m used to controlling, even repressing, my negative emotions. Until the accident, my entire life was ruled by my fear that other people would see the whole, messy me – and that upon being seen, I’d be rejected. Much of my caring about others in my life has manifested as protecting others from my messier emotions or as editing those emotions so others could feel their efforts to cheer me actually did some good.
I can’t do that anymore. This grief is too big. I have no energy left to make anyone else feel good about helping me.
So far, fortunately, the vast majority of folks have not made their comfort my job. Rather, I’ve gotten overwhelming support from the community and my family. Friends of my husband have crawled out of the woodwork to tell me how much they loved him, how he changed their lives, how they plan to pay it all forward now that he’s gone.
These messages are a huge help. I haven’t responded to everyone, because I still need to ration my energy for rehab and grief. But I appreciate each contact I have with others who loved him too.
I’m not holding it against anyone if they need to step away from me for a bit, if the combined weight of their grief and my own is just too much. We all need to grieve. But I’m also not working to make my grief okay for others, either. I don’t have the energy. I’m using it all to survive the grief. To make sure that when that pain passes, I am still here.
To the question “What can I do to help?,” the answer right now is “I’ll tell you when I know.” Rehab plans to discharge me with a lost of things I can do myself and things I need assistance with, and I plan to organize help based on that list. Otherwise I might wind up with 15 casseroles but no clean laundry when I can cook just fine but can’t load the washer, for example.
I don’t currently have a GoFundMe, though I hear the band boosters at my husband’s school are putting one together. I do have my usual Ko-Fi, under my pen name: http://ko-fi.com/verityreynolds .
I’m writing this on my phone, which is fine as I can only type with one hand anyway. 🙂
Love your loved ones. Be kind to one another. I intend to make it.